When I first started practicing yoga asana, in standing forward bends I couldn’t touch the floor. Sometimes it still feels like I can’t move forward at all. However, when I look back, things have changed. It just takes a little time.
In Sanskrit, the seated forward bend practiced in the Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series is named paścimottānāsana. A literal translation to English of ‘paścima’ is west or back of the body. If I am standing facing the sunrise in the morning, then the front of my body is facing east and the back of my body is facing west, and so this forward fold that stretches the back of the body is the ‘western stretch’. This name doesn’t mention folding forwards, it’s all about the back of the body. I believe that’s helpful, to get inside forward bends we need to look at the entire back of the body, from head to toe.
There is a direct connective tissue relationship from the bottom of our feet to the top of our head. You can feel this in the body. One example is if you sit on the floor with your legs directly out in front, point your feet away from the shins, and then flex your feet with your toes towards the shins. Notice the changes in sensation down the back of the calves, knees, thighs and maybe even up into the seat and lower back.
In our September ‘Monthly Primary Series’ class at Whitespace Yoga & Wellbeing Studio, we looked at the anatomy and techniques involved in safe and effective forward folding. Exploring an understanding of the anatomy and having an intention in forward folding of more than just bending at the middle of the body.
Within the Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series there is a lot of forward bending. The second vinyasa movement of the practice is a standing forward fold and this is just the beginning. Asana by asana the intensity and emphasis of the forward folding develops through the Primary Series, allowing us to explore the sensation of asking the back of our body to stretch in different ways: with different relationships to gravity and to the floor, different foundations, different use of the feet, the arms and shoulders, different rotations of the hip joint, different relationships of the femur into the pelvis, sometimes with symmetry and sometimes asymmetry. This also highlights how the relationship between postures is not always consecutive with standing postures early in the practice having a relationship with seated postures much later on.
The next ‘Monthly Primary Series’ class is on Saturday 10 October and there is regular Ashtanga self-practice and led-practice every Sunday.